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From: Sewanee Review
Volume 121, Number 4, Fall 2013
pp. 612-620 | 10.1353/sew.2013.0106

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I think I knew in an instant that he was simply too golden to be true, but Klaus's dramatic appearance at Goethestrasse 1 in Freiburg in the fall of 1960 was a dazzling flare in the receding gloom that couldn't be shunted aside with my normal skepticism. My eagerly anticipated Fulbright lectureship at Heidegger's old university in southwestern Germany had turned into a two-month nightmare. Although promised adequate lodgings, we had been living out of trunks and suitcases with two babies in the bedroom of a private house, while I tried frantically to teach my courses, find an apartment, and adapt myself to the German culture that I regarded as intractably hostile. Finally, after I had submitted my resignation to the rector of the university and the Fulbright commission in Bonn, the authorities "discovered" an overlooked property on the fourth floor of Goethestrasse 1, a comparatively palatial, sparsely furnished, three-room apartment just on the other side of the Dreisam River, a ten-minute stroll from the university campus.

Across the street was an institute for elementary-school teachers—an inexhaustible source of babysitters—and, directly below us in the third floor apartment, a young would-be playwright-novelist, Gert Hofmann, whose precocious four-year-old son, Michael, was fluent in three languages, including English. Gert was a fussy artist-type who clearly resented the turmoil of his upstairs American neighbors, and he had the appalling habit of leaving his son alone at night with the door locked from the outside. After several times in which we could all too clearly hear the boy's inconsolable sobs, we convinced Gert to leave us a key when he went out so that we could, if necessary, soothe the boy when bad dreams brought him frenziedly awake. I had never met a four-year-old who could suffer trilingually, but Michael did and would swear us to silence on those occasions when his uncontrollable nightmares brought us to his bedside. I suspect that Gert would have delighted in silencing us as well, but the prestige of my Fulbright title precluded him from making too much of a fuss. At any rate, when Klaus made his own noisy stage entrance, it was as though an alternate and far more pleasurable scene was unfolding in my own international drama—one that I certainly welcomed.

He abruptly appeared at my door with his pretty wife and stylishly barbered black poodle, announcing by way of introduction that he was Klaus and he was going to be my one friend in Germany. Tall, broad-shouldered, and thick-chested, with a rooster-comb shock of wavy blond hair, he occupied space with the confident authority of a ringmaster in a ragtag traveling circus, and, even as one resisted his brassy satisfaction in his own performance, it was impossible not to be beguiled by his friendliness. It was as though a healthy golden retriever had determined to win your affection, nosing your hand with its muzzle until sheer gravity made you scratch its head between the ears and massage the loose skin of its throat. I do not intend to demean the memory of my friend Klaus with my metaphors. It was just, as I came gradually to see, that his theatricality was not, as it is for most of us, an attitude that we don for defense or effect. In Klaus's case the attitude and the underlying substance were one—operatically lachrymose when he was in despair, explosively exuberant when he and the world were in happy alignment.

It did no good to insist, as I immediately did, that I already had a German friend—and that, even if I hadn't had one, I preferred to choose my own, and I saw no reason to believe that he would qualify. My studied irony was as ineffectual with him as a sigh in a windstorm. "Oh, Buddy Bud!" he roared. "I have promised, and I will be your German friend." Gradually, with unfolding pleasure in his recital, he explained his presence. He had earned a master's at the University of Louisville just a year before I joined that faculty; he returned to...

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